Why Spring Garden Road's bus-only pilot project failed

Drivers avoided the street when police were there to direct them. (Halifax Regional Municipality - image credit)
Drivers avoided the street when police were there to direct them. (Halifax Regional Municipality - image credit)

A municipal committee has asked city staff for an improved plan to revive the pilot project banning cars from Spring Garden Road next summer.

Traffic planners came to a special meeting of Halifax's transportation standing committee Wednesday to explain why the first attempt at the experiment fell apart after four days in July.

"Obviously the pilot didn't work as intended and had significant challenges." said HRM transportation planning manager Mike Connors.

In December 2021, regional council directed staff to run the car-free pilot project for a year. But Connors listed a number of factors that interfered.

"Construction on Spring Garden Road and the surrounding area has taken longer than expected and has added challenges to the operation of the pilot," he said.

The other challenge was getting the message out to the driving public.

"Traffic restrictions on Spring Garden Road for the pilot are more difficult to communicate to drivers than we had originally expected. It is now clear that a more robust traffic control plan will be required," said Connors.

Quieter, calmer

Halifax Regional Municipality
Halifax Regional Municipality

The plan was to stop cars from entering Spring Garden Road between Queen Street and South Park Street from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Transit buses and cyclists were still allowed.

Connors said the pilot worked well when there were police stationed at those intersections to keep cars from entering the street, and to explain the new rules.

He said the road was significantly quieter and calmer during those periods, and pedestrians could navigate the area more easily.

But police staff shortages meant officers were not always available. So during busy times, drivers ignored the signs and drove on the road as usual.

Ineffective signs

Connors also told the committee the signs that were put up warn drivers not to enter Spring Garden Road could be improved.

He said signs with a green circle and forward arrow listing the times when drivers were allowed to cross the street could be replaced with red "no turn" and "do not enter" signs.

Halifax Regional Municipality
Halifax Regional Municipality

He also raised the possibility of a permanent, or semi-permanent barrier with a mechanical gate.

The bridge toll transponder in transit buses could activate the gate, but it would keep cars and trucks away.

Connors said Banff, Alta., has such a system, but staff would need to study if it can be used here.

Cancel and relaunch

"When you do a pilot, and when you attempt to do something new, sometimes it's not going to work, and we know that, and this didn't work," said Coun. Waye Mason, who is a member of the committee.

He agreed that "do not enter" signs will do a better job grabbing drivers' attention.

"The signs that say, 'You can do this,' don't work as well as the one saying, 'You can't do this.'"

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

But Coun. Paul Russell had doubts.

"I would have to see strong justification of why one sign would work better than the other when signs inherently are less effective than physical measures," he said.

Russell said one-way side streets such as Birmingham Street and Brenton Street should have been switched to two-way traffic to allow local residents to come and go.

The committee voted to cancel the original pilot project, which has been officially "paused" since July.

The members have now directed the city's CAO to come up with a better plan and have it ready by March, which will hopefully allow another attempt in the summer of 2023.

"The message I want to give to the public is … There's good reasons to delay it, but we're doing it. And that it's not going to slide further to the right," Mason said.