A Halifax councillor wants to try closing some streets to vehicles while students are dropped off and picked up.
Coun. Waye Mason brought a motion for a staff report to council’s Transportation Standing Committee on Thursday.
Mason, chair of the committee, requested a report “regarding establishing criteria for a pilot project to close school zones to vehicle traffic during pick [up] and drop off where the road configuration would allow it.”
“There are schools where something like this would work and there are schools where it wouldn’t,” Mason said.
On quieter streets, Mason said the municipality is allowed to approve closures for events like parties without requiring police to be present to direct traffic.
Mason said it could be possible on Walnut Street in front of LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary School and on Norwood and Beech streets in front of Sir Charles Tupper Elementary School. He suggested crossing guards or volunteers could put cones out to block traffic.
“It won’t work everywhere. And I think it’s really got to be about where the majority of the students are walking to school, to make it safer for them,” Mason said.
Lucas Pitts, director of traffic management at HRM, said similar programs are common across Canada.
“The programs that I am aware of are all volunteer driven,” Pitts said.
“If you look at the City of Vancouver, they did follow up before and after, and 82% to 95% of the families are happy with the street closures. They are typically only about 20 to 25 minutes of closures. So, it’s not a really long time either.”
Suburban councillors weren’t easily convinced to support Mason’s motion.
“We tried this in some of the areas, and they’ve tried the walking school buses and all that sort of thing,” Bedford-Wentworth Coun. Tim Outhit said.
“But to be honest with you, it led to a lot of conflict and frankly it just pushed all the problems onto other streets and just down the road and then became policing issues.”
Coun. Patty Cuttell said in her district, Spryfield-Sambro Loop-Prospect Road, people are blocking driveways and school pick-ups and drop-offs are a “bit of a free for all.”
“I don’t know if the answer closing a street or whether it’s taking a different approach and designating specific areas with specific rules to help mitigate the congestion, mitigate the aggravation, and make things, first and foremost, safer for the kids getting to school,” Cuttell said.
Coun. Trish Purdy said she supports the idea of managing traffic around schools, but it wouldn’t work in her Cole-Harbour-Westphal district.
“I can see a nightmare in my district of closing down a street,” Purdy said.
Mason said he’s mainly thinking about his district, Peninsula South, where most students walk to school.
The motion passed. Mason also brought two other related motions.
Permanent lower speeds for school districts
First, he moved for a staff report on a “process to request that all school zones in HRM be designated 30 kph zones on a [permanent] basis.”
School zones in HRM are typically signed for 30km/h when children are present, reverting to the higher posted limit during off hours. Mason would prefer speeds in those areas were permanently limited to 30km/h. The provincial government hasn’t allowed HRM to lower all resident speed limits to 40km/h, but Mason is hoping this change will be permitted.
Second, he moved for a staff report on implementing “a pilot to designate certain main streets as vehicle free on Sundays during the summer months (June-August).”
Mason was thinking of the Switch Streets events that happen annually on Agricola Street in Halifax or Portland Street in downtown Dartmouth. Those events are expensive because the provincial Motor Vehicle Act requires police on site to supervise the street closure.
With the request, Mason is asking staff whether police are still required if those streets are closed every week.
Those motions both passed as well.
Almon Street bike lane to move ahead without full plan
The Almon Street bike lane will move ahead without the ends figured out, at least for now.
The Transportation Standing Committee considered the bike lane for the third time during its meeting on Thursday.
The committee approved a protected bike lane for Almon between Windsor and Agricola streets last year. At the time, it asked for options to extend the lane to George Dauphinee Avenue to the west and Gottingen Street to the east.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, staff brought back a list of options for those extensions, with long timelines for completion. The committee asked for another report on whether the west side could be done sooner.
“Revisiting the West End Bikeways functional plan would require staff in the Active Transportation group and the Transportation Planning group (Planning and Development) to delay other projects,” active transportation manager David MacIsaac wrote in that report.
To get the work done, MacIsaac wrote that his team would have to postpone functional planning of improvements to the painted Windsor Street bike lane, suspend a bike parking program, and pause plans to improve the intersection of Windsor and Liverpool streets.
“There is already significant pressure on the Active Transportation group due to staffing vacancies,” MacIsaac wrote, noting the team is half vacant.
One option to extend the bike lane to George Dauphinee Avenue involves potentially converting Almon Street to one-way in that section. That requires a wider analysis of the effects on traffic, MacIsaac wrote, which would delay other municipal projects. Those include planning and designing upgrades to Portland Street, the Bedford Highway, and Main Street.
David Trueman with the Halifax Cycling Coalition suggested to the committee that it should take action to limit further delays.
“Clearly the active transportation team needs help,” Trueman told the committee on Thursday.
“And so what we are proposing is that you outsource the functional analysis on the two ends of Almon Street, and if necessary, outsource the tactical implementation of protected infrastructure on those sections in response to the functional analysis, hopefully coincident with the permanent building on the rest of Almon Street.”
Coun. Shawn Cleary said he was “underwhelmed” with what came back last month, and he was hoping analysis on the ends of the street would be done by then. He agreed with Trueman.
“I think we absolutely must either put this out to tender as a an external consultation, or hire more staff so that we can actually get this kind of stuff done,” Cleary said.
“We’re clearly understaffed, and I’m disappointed in … Public Works. During our last budget, this was not identified and resources could have been put in here.”
Cleary said he’d bring a motion at the next meeting around accelerating the work.
The committee voted in favour of the staff recommendation to go ahead with the rest of the Almon Street lane in the meantime.