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HRM’s ‘slow streets’ initiative creating more space for physical distancing

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"Slow streets" have been implemented in Halifax and Dartmouth to create more space for pedestrians, cyclists and other forms of sustainable transportation during the pandemic. – May 31, 2020

If large signs in the middle of several streets throughout Dartmouth and Halifax cause you to second guess driving down them, that’s the point.

“Slow streets” have been implemented throughout neighbourhoods with the goal of reducing vehicle volume and creating a safe space for residents to walk, roll and cycle while adhering to physical distancing guidelines.

“We all want our neighbourhoods to be safe and our streets to be safe where we live, so if you’re driving through these kinds of neighbourhoods that maybe aren’t exactly where you live, just try to respect the signs, slow down,” said Jillian Banfield, a safe cycling advocate from Halifax.

The slow streets initiative is part of the Halifax Mobility Response Plan that was announced last week as part of the Halifax Regional Municipality’s (HRM) response to the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: Halifax to implement ‘slow streets’ in mobility response plan

The municipality’s first phase of its plan was to temporarily expand sidewalks on both sides of Spring Garden Road between South Park Street and Queen Street by removing parking and loading spaces.

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Throughout the pandemic, public health officials have repeatedly told people that physical distancing plays a crucial role in managing the spread of COVID-19.

However, fresh air and enjoying the outdoors is also a crucial for both mental and physical health — which is where the slow streets initiative comes into play.

“I think what we’ve especially learned now is that we need more space. We devote too much space to single-occupancy vehicles moving around the streets and people want to be able to walk, and cycle in their neighbourhoods,” Banfield said.

The slow streets initiative and push to create more space for people has caught on in other parts of Canada.

The City of Vancouver has already installed 12 kilometres of slow streets with the aim of increasing the amount of space for people to social distance while safely enjoying their neighbourhoods.

Vancouver city council is also considering repurposing 50 kilometres of roadway to increase space for patios, outside lines, walking and cycling.

READ MORE: Vancouver looks at ‘slow streets’ to make space for pedestrians amid COVID-19 pandemic

For cyclists in Nova Scotia, the dedication of some streets to non-motor vehicle traffic seems like a no-brainer in keeping people safe and active.

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“I’d like to see more initiatives like this,” Michele Comeau said, a cyclist in Dartmouth.

“I think it’s better than the cycle lanes because the cars still come close to you in the cycle lanes. So, less cars and slower cars is better,”
Michele Comeau is a cyclist who says ‘slow streets’ make him feel safer than bike lanes. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

As of now, Halifax has over a dozen slow streets on the peninsula and Dartmouth has them in the downtown core and on Chappell Street.

Banfield would like to see slow streets expand to other communities throughout the municipality.

“There’s historically Black communities that haven’t received this kind of attention, there’s communities in Clayton Park where we have a lot of new immigrants who are receiving bicycles through Welcoming Wheels and they don’t necessarily have a safe place to ride them. So, I’d like to see more attention to those kinds of neighbourhoods and not just the peninsula,” she said.

With files from Alexander Quon. 

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