On Thursday evening, the Halifax Cycling Coalition (HCC) is starting a much-needed discussion by inviting citizens to give their two cents on a long list of possible amendments to Nova Scotia’s rules of the road. At the top of the list is renaming the 1989 act to something that reflects all road users. Think “Road Safety Act” instead of the somewhat misleading current title: Motor Vehicle Act.

The proposed amendments focus both on increasing safety for cyclists and vulnerable road users, and increasing efficiency for bikes and other traffic.

The most obvious changes needed, says HCC board member Paul Calderhead, are definitions. “That’s just a modernizing thing – bringing the legislation up to date with what people are using to actually get around right now.”

That includes defining e-bikes, and the various sub-categories of e-bikes. But it also includes defining things like bike boxes (a painted box at an intersection designated for bikes to queue in, and therefore remain highly visible) and separated bike lanes.

Proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act would include definitions of a bike box, though it would still be up to municipalities to actually build them. (Photo from nacto.org)
Proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act would include definitions of a bike box, though it would still be up to municipalities to actually build them. (Photo from nacto.org)

“Defining things and making clear who has access to infrastructure, who can go where – I think that’s part of what they were doing with the Segway thing, but I think it can go much further than that,” says Calderhead.

It was just over a month ago that the province passed a very specific set of changes that officially allowed Segways (defined as “personal transporters”) onto our sidewalks. So one would expect these HCC proposals to at least get some consideration from Minister Geoff MacLellan and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (NSTIR). The Segway amendment, says Calderhead, shows NSTIR is “willing to listen to groups that are not the majority but have an interest nonetheless in what the Act covers.”

Creating the right definitions is important stuff, and so is putting the power in the right place. Two of my favourite amendments on the HCC list involve allowing local authorities to establish rules specific to local areas.

For one, allow municipalities to set speed limits lower than 50 kph where necessary. Of course we know that speed limits do not always reduce actual speeds, but at least they set a collective standard for what we think is reasonable. And 50 kph on my street – lined with dense housing and filled with people of all ages – is not reasonable. Right now, Minister MacLellan has the power to lower the speed limit in my neighbourhood. The HCC is proposing, and I agree with them, that that responsibility should lie with local authorities. (Quebec already allows local boroughs to determine safe speeds for their neighbourhoods.)

Another involves allowing municipalities the ability to designate certain sidewalks or crosswalks as trails, and therefore make them legally accessible by people on bikes. This manoeuvre alone could help Halifax transportation planners make valuable connections in its fragmented bike network. As with speed limits, local authorities stand the best chance of knowing what’s needed and acceptable at a neighbourhood level.

But not everything will be as simple as agreeing on terms or shifting authority. Some amendments involve re-thinking rules of the road, and differentiating between at what’s safe behaviour for people in cars versus what’s safe for people on bikes.

Here’s a sampling of what’s on the list of proposals up for discussion Thursday night:

  • Make it legal for people on bikes to yield rather than stop when travelling through a four-way stop. (The so-called Idaho Stop, which some think is safer for cyclists, has been considered in Ontario and San Francisco.)
  • Increase penalties for harassment or aggressive driving.
  • Define vulnerable road users and create a sort of hierarchy of vulnerability, from pedestrian, to cyclist, to motorcyclist, to driver.
  • Make the “right hook” illegal, by tightening turning rules after passing a bike. (Massachusetts did this as part of an overall Bicyclist Safety Bill)
  • Clarify that people on bikes in roundabouts should take up the whole lane, instead of keeping to the right, where cars can still pass them.
  • Create stricter liability and higher penalties for “dooring” (opening your door into traffic, which can be deadly for people on bikes)
  • Include bike lanes along with construction and school zones as double-the-fine areas.
  • Expand the definition of “distracted driving” beyond use of cellphones to include other activities like eating, grooming, or adjusting devices.
Paul Calderhead is on the HCC board and one of the volunteers who assembled the amendments up for discussion Thursday.
Paul Calderhead is on the HCC board and one of the volunteers who assembled the amendments up for discussion Thursday.

The HCC hopes to have close to 40 proposed amendments up for discussion on Thursday, and will ask anyone willing to drop by to weigh in with a “yay,” a “nay,” or a “huh?” if they need more information.

“I hope we’re going to get input from not just cyclists, but from motorists and pedestrians,” says Calderhead.

After Thursday, the HCC will review all comments and feedback, and then send the package off to the provincial government.

“I’d like to see the province pick it up and do some public consultation across Nova Scotia,” says Calderhead.

 The HCC meeting is at the Central Library BMO Room on Thursday, January 21st, from 5:30pm to 8:45pm.

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  1. Trails that are designed to be shared use for bicycles and pedestrians are wider than trails designed for foot traffic only…. will the width of sidewalks change where bicycles are approved to use for normal travel?

    Also the Driver’s Handbook and MVA are what defines pedestrian safety and crosswalk usage… there needs to be some changes made given the number of vehicle/pedestrian injury incidents… note I did not use the word accidents… there are no pedestrian/vehicle accidents, they are ALL preventable.

  2. Leo Glavine is one of the best examples of the gross standard of competence that defines Nova Scotia. Only here would we deem it suitable to have a fucking high school soccer coach as minister of health.

    1. Here you go: At the Central Library BMO Room, Thursday Jan 21, 5:30pm to 8:45pm. Event is drop in style. I’ve updated the main story.

  3. Regarding dooring:

    In places where there is on street parking, and insufficient room for cyclists to give a wide enough berth to the parked cars to avoid a door while also allowing drivers to pass the cyclist on the left (so all of the peninsula) it should be expected that cyclists ride (as they are permitted to anyway) in the middle of the lane, thereby protecting themselves from getting doored.

    Even though I am careful to check my side mirror before I open my car door when I’m parked on the street, I don’t do it all the time, being a flawed human like everyone else, and also there is no way to enforce penalties for carelessly opening a car door unless it results in an accident or near miss – how would the officer ever prove it was opened recklessly?

    When I ride around the peninsula, I always take a full lane, it is NOT worth risking a right hook or getting doored so that someone can briefly hit 40 km/h before the next stop or light instead of cruising behind me at 25 or 30 km/h. When there are no parked cars on my right, or there’s few enough that I can see if there are people in them, I move over and let cars pass. I have no idea why many of the cyclists I see behave as though their safety is worth less than the convenience of someone in a car.

    And finally, why not repeal helmet laws? Helmets don’t make people much safer. Maybe we should apply the same logic to not wearing bike helmets as we do to tobacco, alcohol and apparently soon marijuana: You’re allowed to use as much as you want or can afford, and the taxes you pay theoretically help pay for the health consequences of doing so. I’m allowed to engage in a wide variety of self-destructive behaviour and have the resulting medical treatment at public expense, why can’t I ride my bike without a helmet?

    1. As far as the helmet law is concerned, check this out: http://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20131204006
      “I respect their right to voice their opinions. However, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining Nova Scotia’s all-ages helmet legislation.

      Wearing a helmet in Nova Scotia became the law in 1997. As a result of the legislation and the pro-helmet culture we’ve established, Nova Scotia has the highest rate of helmet use in the country and the lowest rate of cycling-related brain injuries. […] One thing we will not do is change the effective helmet legislation that is helping keep Nova Scotians young and old safe from injury while they enjoy a bike ride. I encourage you and your families to always wear helmets when playing sports.”
      This is from an op-ed from the minister of health the last time the HCC polled members on the issue, in 2013. I’m not going to waste my time breaking down the factual errors in the minister’s statement, except for the following tidbits:
      1. Nova Scotia has Canada’s highest cycling head injury rates after correcting for kilometres travelled.
      2. The helmet law in Nova Scotia has been found to reduce the participation rate in cycling (see #1)
      3. While helmets do reduce your risk of injury in the event of a collision, they do not reduce the likelihood of a collision. In fact, some studies suggest the risk of a collision increases due to helmet use. One group of studies alleges “risk compensation,” where the cyclist rides more dangerously (i.e. faster), the other group alleges drivers drive faster and closer to cyclists who are helmeted.

      The reason the HCC isn’t floating a helmet law repeal at this event is that the minister of health has made a direct statement saying he won’t even consider it. It has been suggested by officials in the department that pursuing this change will cause the HCC to be ineligible for grant funding. We will instead be focusing on other changes which can make a positive impact for people on bicycles, though we intend to hold some sort of event in the next 12 months to have a thorough discussion on helmet issues, inviting the minister and medical experts to speak.

      1. KUDOS re «risk compensation». I rode bikes for 30 years without a helmet. Wearing a helmet I am unable to properly assess conditions around me, and I have had many more «close calls» while FORCED to wear a helmet than I ever did before that silliness was promulgated.

        Helmet-wearing expensively-suited and expensively-steeded KAMIKAZE cycle-predators have been the bane of my existence as a SENSIBLE cyclist. I was T-boned by a speeding, head-down helmet-wearer whose idiotic (and illegal!!!) action saw pieces of my skin decorating the pavement of Sherbrooke Street. In revenge I stomp-trashed his bike and blacked one of his eyes. I have had several similar «thrills» while WALKING my bike across the AngusL. Those «cyclists» are the ones who have MOST of the collisions — SENSIBLE cyclists rarely cause «accidents» and DON’T NEED HELMETS.

    2. I too am an advocate for taking the lane, but some drivers are exceedingly aggressive about it. I’ve had some terrible experiences on Gottingen where I took the lane to avoid being doored or getting stuck on the right when trying to make a left turn, and had very impatient drivers lose it on me.

      So I understand why some bikers are apprehensive about taking the lane. To be a defensive biker in this city you have to constantly be prepared for conflicts with drivers, and it is an awful experience that most people (including me) don’t really want to deal with on a daily basis.

      We live in a city that is ambivalent at best about pedestrians and bikers, and downright hostile to them the rest of the time. It wears on you, and it’s not easy to just take the lane in such an awful environment.

    3. Nick : If you have life insurance you may have an insurance company that believes a helmet is required to reduce risk of serious injury.
      Many insurers ask about lifestyle and habits before accepting an applicant but If you work in the public sector or a large corporation you will have group coverage and this is not applicable.

    4. There is strong evidence that helmets protect lives. Although the data is from motorcycle accidents I see no reason that wouldn’t apply to bicyclists, as well. In a peer-reviewed paper, researchers in western Michigan report that deaths of motorcyclists at the scene increased four-fold, and deaths later in hospital tripled, after Michigan repealed its helmet law.

      1. Stan, motorcycles go several times faster than bikes most of the time. Except in traffic, a motorcyclist is going to be doing 50+ km/h. Motorcycle helmets also offer far better protection than a bike helmet. The evidence for bike helmet efficacy is mixed, and probably nonexistent if you count the negative health outcomes associated with increased driving – one thing we know for sure is that helmet laws reduce cycling.

        Ben, it doesn’t surprise me that our government flatly refuses to even consider the issue.

        1. Cycling won’t reduce driving. Any negatives associated with driving have a certain offset from the taxation at purchase, operation and repair.
          I never wore a helmet when I cycled, I din’t have a spouse and a family to worry about and i never had a driving licence until I was over 30.
          If a helmet deters cycling I suppose seatbelts deter driving, yada yada yada – if you were around when seatbelts were introduced more than 20 years ago you will recognise silly arguments.
          If you like living wear a helmet when cycling.

    5. Jerry Seinfeld put it best – if the brain that the helmet is protecting is too stupid to know it needs the protection – then so be it. Just carry enough insuranace to pay your own costs.