A “pandemic extended sidewalk” in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 2020. — Flickr user angela n. Credit: Flickr user angela n.

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Halifax is belatedly moving to make changes to its transportation network to help pedestrians and cyclists better adhere to social distancing guidelines, but the plan is short on details.

The city notified councillors and announced publicly on Tuesday that it’s “preparing to implement adjustments to the transportation network, as part of the collective effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

“We have heard from the public and various stakeholders that there are immediate actions that are needed to allow people to physically distance while walking or cycling and access essential services and local businesses,” transportation director Brad Anguish and planning director Kelly Denty wrote in an email to councillors, dated May 11 but sent Tuesday morning.

“As we start to reopen the economy, commuter patterns and mode share are unknown and are expected to change throughout the recovery phase. In order to adapt and prepare for changing Public Health directives, the Municipality is developing a rapid response plan to quickly implement tactical elements to accommodate users of the right of way for different scenarios.”

As the Halifax Examiner reported last week, despite calls from citizens and councillors for more than a month, the city has been slow to implement the kinds of changes — temporary bike lanes and widened sidewalks — that jurisdictions across the world have embraced.

Anguish and Denty told councillors there’s a team from multiple departments working on the plan, focusing on five key areas: “Necessary adjustments to the transportation systems that will allow for the safe movement of people and goods;” “Safety of front-line workers while supporting both operational and remote workforces;” “Delivery and pick-up needs for restaurants and other establishments;” “Adjustments to crowded areas, such as narrow sidewalks, to support safe social distancing;” and creating “clear messaging related to transportation recovery efforts.”

The “Transportation Recovery Team” is being led by Tanya Davis, manager of strategic transportation planning.

Neither the email to councillors nor the news release has any details on which areas will be targeted or when, or what the changes will look like. 

“More information will be available in the coming weeks,” the news release said, with updates shared on Twitter and at Halifax.ca.

Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told council that staff would target “hot spots” like Quinpool and Spring Garden roads.

Council also passed a motion from Coun. Lindell Smith on Tuesday to direct Dubé to consult with the city’s business improvement districts, like the Downtown Halifax Business Association, to identify streets that could be closed to vehicular traffic this summer.

It’s the second motion council has passed around COVID-19 transportation, following Coun. Shawn Cleary’s request for an “expedited” staff report “on providing safe mobility through an inexpensive, tactical, and temporary installation of bike lanes and active transportation routes.” Cleary spoke in favour of Smith’s motion as a way to help businesses bounce back when restrictions loosen.

But some councillors still aren’t on board. Coun. Richard Zurawski felt the city was going too far.

“I can’t support this. I don’t want to see sidewalks opening up. I don’t want to see restaurants opening up. I don’t want to see people out there until we get a vaccine,” he said.

Along with Zurawski, councillors David Hendsbee, Stephen Adams and Matt Whitman voted against Smith’s motion.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. If the assumption by the HRM politicians and their CAO is that the downtown bars and restaurants will open this summer then they are making dangerous decisions if the Health Authority guidelines aren’t followed. We risk a huge second virus wave in the Fall by opening up public gathering places prematurely.

    If the politicians in Halifax and their buddies in the business development agencies are willing to test their theories, then all of them should eat at downtown restaurants and drink at the bars. They should report each day which place they ate and drank and after two weeks they get tested for the Covis. If no one is positive this might attract a few people to take risks and gather. The rest of us may watch in horror as this HRM plan creates a second wave of death.

  2. Regarding Zurawski’s comment: it’s not about “opening up” sidewalks – in case he hadn’t noticed, sidewalks are _already open_ – they’re the way we get around on foot (or wheelchair, or stroller, etc.) in this city! Widening sidewalks temporarily wouldn’t put anyone at greater risk from covid-19 – it’s the opposite. It’s about giving us room to pass each other safely, keeping a 2m / 6ft distance from each other. This kind of tactical urbanism is an entirely sensible temporary response to a public health conundrum.

  3. So the CAO’s “We’ll rush (sic) that report back to you in six months or so” previous response to Council was a little off…

    City staff at lower levels appears to be delivering needed improvements about 4 months ahead of schedule, without even writing a report for the CAO to deliver to City Council. An instance of our civil service crowdsourcing beating the Top-down Master of the [civic] Universe. But that’s not too amazing.

    And thanks for doing that. Gotta hope there are no repercussions. We’re not living in Trump-land.