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COVID prompts municipalities to reconsider sustainable transportation

Regional council has encouraged social distancing in ways that also – perhaps unintentionally – promote sustainable transportation
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In the middle of the pandemic, Halifax widened the sidewalks on two of its major downtown streets, Quinpool and Spring Garden roads.

As Halifax Regional Council meets virtually, they've implemented ways of encouraging social distancing that also – perhaps unintentionally – promote sustainable transportation.

“There are certainly a lot of exciting initiatives that have come to the forefront, particularly over the past month in Halifax,” says Kelsey Lane, Sustainable Transportation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

Lane tells NEWS 95.7’s The Todd Veinotte Show that having the widened sidewalks, as well as slow streets in several areas, have shown how quickly HRM can act when they need to.

“It has provided people with more space to be able to walk, to be able to bike, to be able to get to the essential services that they need to and not come in contact with traffic,” she says.

The slow streets, Lane says, as well as things like narrowed streets and widened curbs, make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. “When you narrow the street, drivers actually pay more attention. It doesn’t feel like a huge runway when you’re driving down the street,” she explains. “The street is narrower, the curb is a little bit closer and so you take that extra minute, you slow down, you’re more aware of your surroundings.”

On top of that, Lane says the new announcements show that the city can find the money for new infrastructure when necessary. These are also projects that we’ve been able to implement quite cheaply. If you look at the active transportation network that’s been installed, it’s only $60,000 to be able to put that infrastructure on the road,” Lane says.

But Lane says municipalities are tight on cash due to the pandemic, and she thinks the federal and provincial governments should continue to aid them in implementing COVID recovery strategies.

“When it comes to the capital budget and those decisions, there’s a lot of things kind of pulling in different directions, says Lane. “Importantly, other levels of government are coming to the table so municipalities aren’t in this alone, but what municipalities need to do is to be able to propose these things and move them up the chain.”

One of the things that Lane says HRM will soon be deciding on is a replacement bus fleet, and she says they're finally leaning towards electric. “It’s an up-front investment but you can see the reduced maintenance costs and operating costs resulting in a savings over the long term of approximately $163 million dollars over 20 years,” Lane says.

Lane says she’s pleased to see how far Halifax council has come on that front in the past few months. “Just a few months ago we saw a tender come through for Halifax that wanted to, that proposed 200 new diesel buses,” she adds. “These are the types of decisions that we need to make that will help us build resilience in the future.”

If federal funding for things like the just green transition comes through to the municipality, Lane thinks Halifax should focus on building sustainable infrastructure, not just restoring the norms of business and transportation.

“[Think about] how to not entrench the status quo, but think about how we can transition and prepare our communities so they’re more resilient in the future,” says Lane.

Lane says although keeping your distance is valuable during the pandemic, expanding sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian areas will continue to benefit everyone in the long run as well.

“When we think about what we’re investing in now, we have to think about how it’s going to contribute to our recovery and also create a system that’s not going to create another crisis,” she says.

Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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