With bus-only plan for Spring Garden Road on hold, could a car-free zone be the answer?

·3 min read
The executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association says she supports making the street pedestrian-only.  (Robert Guertin, CBC - image credit)
The executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association says she supports making the street pedestrian-only. (Robert Guertin, CBC - image credit)

With Halifax's decision to hit the brakes on its bus-only Spring Garden Road pilot project, some say now is the time to go a different route and close the downtown street to vehicle traffic altogether.

Sue Uteck, executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association, said she supports making the street pedestrian-only, as long as deliveries can still be made to businesses before 11 a.m.

"We had the buses rerouted during the construction. We received very little complaints as an association on that," Uteck told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Tuesday.

On Friday, the Halifax Regional Municipality announced it was pausing its bus- and bike-only pilot project on Spring Garden Road, which began just four days earlier, and was supposed to last a year.

The plan was to limit vehicles, except buses, between Queen and South Park streets from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. — but people kept driving along the street anyway.

CBC
CBC

Uteck said "the signage was poor and the execution was even poorer."

She's glad the municipality realized things weren't working, and she's eager to see what they'll do now.

"Let's see how they're going to correct it, but if this is going to cost thousands of thousands of dollars in the end, is it worth it? Or do we just close off the street?" Uteck said, adding that there's plenty of underground parking in the area already.

Tristan Cleveland, a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University who studies walkable communities, said he'd love to see the municipality limit vehicle traffic on Spring Garden Road.

Like Uteck, he believes the months-long construction project that closed a large section of the street last year proved that people will still visit the area by foot.

It's the kind of trial run that's needed for a project like this, Cleveland said.

"Many streets across North America that have tried to pedestrianize actually hurt the street. They almost died afterwards," he said, "the cars themselves bring a certain activity and some streets without that, they don't maintain their energy."

Listen to Information Morning's interviews about the Spring Garden Road project:

Cleveland suggests trying out the pedestrian-only plan on weekends first.

"It's not a street closure. It's a street opening, giving people all that extra space," he said.

"Merchants can bring their goods out onto the street ... hold festivals on the street. There's really a lot you can do once you commit to making that open on the weekends."

Halifax looking at different options

Municipality project manager Elora Wilkinson said it's too soon to say what's next for Spring Garden Road now that the bus-only pilot is on hold.

Staff are looking at several different options, including signal changes, more signs and different enforcement tactics.

"Council's given us permission for a one-year pilot of the transit only, and I think we want to very much see if there's another way that we can make it work," she said. "We still fully believe that this could be a really good thing for the corridor."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Wilkinson said the first few days of the pilot project were confusing for drivers and didn't meet the goal of limiting traffic on the road. But she hasn't lost faith in the idea, which she says was first floated more than a decade ago.

"The fact that we've come all this way to making it a reality ... is still a good news story that we're looking to try new things, to push what we usually do ... even if we didn't get it necessarily perfect on the first try."

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