City staff plan to switch up the materials they use to slow down traffic this year as the municipality plans to continue its active transportation response to COVID-19.
In a report headed to Halifax regional council on Tuesday, municipal transportation demand management coordinator Eliza Jackson sums up the hits and misses of the city’s Mobility Response Plan.
In April 2020, according to Jackson’s report, the city established a task force “to determine Halifax Regional Municipality’s response to the impact of COVID-19 on our mobility networks and public spaces.”
The work didn’t come quickly, as we wrote about in early May 2020, with the transportation and public works director making excuses not to do the kinds of things other cities were doing to make more room for social distancing on sidewalks.
Later in May, the municipality announced it would widen some sidewalks and create some temporary bike lanes, and at the end of May they started to roll out with widened sidewalks on Quinpool and Spring Garden roads.
By the end of the summer, the municipality had ramped that up to 16 km of slow streets on peninsular Halifax and in downtown Dartmouth, the closures of Argyle Street and Bedford Row for dining, temporary loading spaces outside some businesses, and an accelerated bike lane on Lower Water Street.
While the report considers the response a success generally, there is room for improvement.
“Our approach this year, informed and inspired by other [National Association of City Transportation Officials] cities, was to use lightweight materials like signs, traffic barrels, and barricade fencing to designate spaces like temporary sidewalks and Slow Streets,” Jackson wrote.
“While this allowed us to implement something quickly, they did not have the impact that we wanted on safety and comfort for people using active transportation and were difficult to maintain.”
As Philip Moscovitch noted in the Morning File in August, “Sometimes, the cones/barrels get crushed by cars whose drivers, I guess, just keep going.” He noted one Twitter user “wrote about watching a driver get out of the car and physically move one of the cones. Others described seeing drivers mow them down.”
Moscovitch went on to detail the kind of enhanced tactical urbanism projects the municipality went on to complete this year. Here’s another example of that.
The municipality conducted surveys on the mobility response, and that kind of feedback led staff to conclude that the “impact” of the slow streets work was “mixed:”
Anecdotally, we heard that people used the additional space for active transportation when they were first implemented but this diminished over time as the barrels were moved and damaged and people driving adhered less and less to the Local Traffic Only signage. While the public reception was positive at first, it also declined over time. From our final wrap-up survey, people largely supported the goals of the program but felt that the implementation using lightweight materials wasn’t enough to have the desired impact.
Other issues outlined in the report are too much focus on the urban areas of the municipality and not enough on the suburban and rural areas, and a lack of appropriate staffing.
For the coming year, Jackson recommends heavier tactical materials, like curbs, planters, and bollards that drivers can’t just pick up and move out of the way — or run down.
“The Slow Street network will have a smaller scope than in 2020 year but will be focused on prioritizing corridors based on equity criteria and outcomes within and outside of the Regional Centre,” Jackson wrote.
It’s also recommended that the municipality continue to open up streets for business, like on Argyle Street and Bedford Row.
But it’s all going to cost more.
There’s $100,000 in the proposed capital budget specifically for the mobility response, another $250,000 for “Street Improvement Pilot Projects,” and $3.3 million active transportation generally, “of which an undetermined portion will support the Mobility Response Plan projects and the Street Improvement Pilot.”
In the proposed operating budget, staff have included $325,000 for staffing “to project manage, implement and maintain the program.”
The recommendation headed to council on Tuesday is to direct chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé “to develop an implementation plan for continuing the Mobility Response Plan as outlined in this report.”
Council meets at 1pm.