News

1. New COVID-19 infections remain high, but numbers seem to be dropping

A visibly worried Premier Iain Rankin (l) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing on May 7, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia announced 121 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. During yesterday’s briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang addressed the question of the testing backlog that first came up last week. Strang explained the backlog is “almost resolved” but did not provide any definite numbers. “In the next day or two, we’ll be back to regular processes where it flows through at a much more timely manner from into the lab, out of the lab, over to Public Health and Public Health initiating a quick beginning of an investigation.”

I’ve seen people wonder online why there was such a backlog in entering test results. Doesn’t it just involve a couple of keystrokes? Well, no. Strang again:

Each positive that comes in, Public Health assigns that to a case investigator who starts the followup. They enter all the information into our information system, Panorama. And from that, the epidemiologists extract the case information and create, you know, our epi report every day. That’s the process… As we pull them out of the bucket, they get assigned and they’re entered into Panorama. And as they’re investigated, each of those cases gets confirmed. And then that’s the number, at 6:30 every morning is our cutoff — we pull how many positive cases were investigated and entered into Panorama over the last 24 hours. And that’s the number of reportable cases we give every day.

Tim Bousquet provides a breakdown of all the numbers from yesterday, further discussion of the backlog question, and lots of information on where to get tested across the province in the coming days.

Speaking of testing, I went for a rapid test at the library last week. Cheery young people, music — I know it sounds strange, but there was almost a (low-key) party atmosphere. This picture from Alderney Landing 10 days ago captures a sense of what it felt like:

Pop-up testing at Alderney Library on May 1, 2021. Photo: Lauren Mills

Bousquet has long offered graphs of new daily case counts, active cases and total cases, but he’s recently added a few new graphs to the mix. I find the demographic one particularly helpful for capturing the changing face of the pandemic. Here is the demographic chart showing daily positive cases by age cohort, since April 17:

I found this chart also provides helpful context:

Bousquet also asks Strang about vaccinations. Here is the exchange:

Bousquet: On the vaccination issue, the province is making progress and getting more doses out there. It’s difficult, however, to look at the daily figures, you know, over the last three days with an average just about 3,000 each day. And we’re seeing wide open appointment times on the website. And pharmacists are saying, putting out Facebook messages saying, “sign up for these because they’re open.” Doesn’t that all just lead to the conclusion that since older people have been vaccinated, it should just be opened up for more age ranges, maybe every age group now?

Strang: No, because we only have a certain amount of vaccine. We have two-week blocks, we know how much vaccine is coming out in the next two weeks, and we book exactly the number of appointments, open up the number of appointments for that amount of vaccine. We don’t want to overpromise. And twice a day, actually, people are looking at where we’re at in terms of our appointments and we’re adjusting things. And so Friday, we opened up to the 45- to 49-year-olds expecting that we were going to get to the next group of 40- to 44-year-olds, maybe in the next week to two weeks. [But] when we’ve looked at the number of appointments already filled up in the 45- to 49-year olds, we’re probably in the next few days going to be able to open up to that 40- to 44-year-old [group]. So when we have availability, we will open up, but we always do it in a very staged manner to make sure that we can deliver on the appointments — that when people book appointments, and when they go to their appointment, we can guarantee that they’re going to have vaccine available to them.

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2. Out from behind the paywall: Part 1 of Linda Pannozzo’s investigation into burning tires as a “green” fuel

Scrap tires. Photo: Wiki Commons

Back in 2017, then-environment minister Iain Rankin gave the green light to Lafarge Canada’s proposal to burn tires at its concrete plant in Brookfield, near Truro.

Believe it or not, burning tires was seen as an environmentally friendly alternative, compared to other fuel sources.

In her latest investigative series, Concrete Capture, Linda Pannozzo looks into these claims, and at how concerns about the Lafarge proposal were brushed aside.

The entire series is available for subscribers, and Part One is now out from behind the paywall and free to read for everyone.

Pannozzo writes:

The plan to use tire derived fuel (TDF) at the Brookfield plant involved injecting 350,000 tires a year (6,000 tonnes) — 15% of the kiln’s total fuel input — into a cement kiln where they would, according to Lafarge, “combust faster than the eye can see” in a 1,450 degrees Celsius inferno.

Lafarge had already been burning “alternative” fuels as a way to “decarbonize cement” at the Brookfield plant. An industrial approval granted in 2005 allowed the company to burn glycerine, used waste oil, and solid shredded wastes (SSW) such as plastics and chipped asphalt shingles. In 2017, the company said these provided up to 30% of its fuel needs and that scrap tires would “increase the use of lower carbon fuels” to almost 50%. 2

When it comes to human health or the environment, Lafarge says the effects of burning tires would be “beneficial to benign,” with “no significant adverse effects other than a slight increase in truck traffic.”

(I swear, every time I get my tires changed over, I think about how part of the environmental fee we pay for tire disposal now goes to Lafarge, subsidizing the company for burning them.)

Pannozzo goes into detail about why Lafarge’s claims on how great burning tires is for the environment are suspect, and why senior government scientists were opposed to the plan.

Lafarge’s claim that burning tires is better for the environment is based in part on baseline testing — comparing the emissions from a fuel mix that includes tires to one that does not. But as Pannozzo notes in the story, in order for that baseline testing to have any meaning, we need to know what fuels were burned to determine that baseline:

If, hypothetically, Lafarge burned 100% petroleum coke for the baseline testing, then pretty much anything would likely come out burning “cleaner,” even scrap tires, since petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining, is probably the filthiest fuel source around.

Sharon Vervaet, a government scientist in NSE’s Industrial Management Unit, and Kathleen Johnson, in the department’s Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement division, reviewed Lafarge’s plan and noted a number of errors, inaccuracies, and missing information.

In particular, Vervaet and Johnson pointed to a section of the registration document that identified the stack testing that would be conducted during what are called “baseline conditions” – in this case, without tires – followed by stack testing after the TDF system was commissioned. But the scientists noted that Lafarge did not specify which fuels would be used during baseline conditions and that, “The proponent should define baseline conditions.”…

Asked by the Examiner about the percent composition of the fuel mix Lafarge was currently using, Robert Cumming replied that the company’s “specific fuel mix is trade confidential.”

As I say, this story is now out from behind the paywall, but it is your subscriptions that allow us to continue this work. Please subscribe here.

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3. Eleanor McCain has bought a good chunk of Peggy’s Cove

Part of the former Beale property in Peggy’s Cove, purchased by Eleanor McCain and Paul Hansen. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

At CBC, Brett Ruskin notes that Eleanor McCain (yes, one of those McCains) and Paul Hansen have purchased six buildings in Peggy’s Cove. The property includes the former Beales Bailiwick gift shop, a residence, and the old red schoolhouse, among other buildings. (I should note that my family are friends with the Beales, who sold the property, and I wrote about the late John Beale for Saltscapes several years ago. That’s his former house in the photo above.)

From Ruskin’s story:

“This project isn’t about me. It isn’t about us,” said McCain. “It’s about Peggys Cove. It’s about their story. It’s something that moves us emotionally to do this project because we think it’s a beautiful story.”

The pair said they have no plans to add any new buildings to either of the parcels of land they purchased, which include expansive areas that stretch to the ocean coastlines.

Eleanor McCain also owns property in nearby Hacketts Cove, and Tim Bousquet wrote about that in the Morning File 2016, in an item called “Hacketts Cove vs Eleanor McCain.”

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4. Trust me, you do want to read about mastodon dung

American Mastodon. Image: Public Domain

Thirty years ago, the remains of two 75,000-year-old mastodons were found in a gypsum quarry in East Milford. Now, a specimen of their dung is providing a picture of what their lives were like.

Paul Withers reports on the research into the mastodon dung in this fascinating piece at CBC.

Withers writes:

Tim Fedak, geological curator of the [Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History], said the dung is an ecological archive.

“You can imagine this mastodon walking down from a highland area down into a lowland and just grabbing some spruce boughs and chomping those down, and there happen to be bugs on them and some seed cones and things.

“So you just get a really great snapshot of that particular environment at that time.”

Doctoral student Scott Cocker, from the University of Alberta, broke down a 50-gram piece of the dung to determine its contents. They included spruce, alder, birch, and the remains of a bark beetle and freshwater sponge. Cocker said it offers “the perfect picture” of what the creatures ingested.

Withers gets into more findings, including what an analysis of mastodon tooth enamel can tell us.

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1. Is a poorly executed Slow Streets program worse than nothing?

The aftermath: Kourosh Rad’s bicycle, shortly after Rad was hit by a truck while riding in his neighbourhood. Photo: Kourosh Rad

Kourosh Rad said when he moved to the North End last year, he was “very excited about biking to work every day.” An urban planner by training, Rad is the owner of downtown restaurant Garden Food Bar and a longtime active transportation advocate.

He moved into his new place on Sept. 1, 2020, while the city’s Slow Streets program was still in effect. The next day, he hopped on his bike to head to work, riding down Creighton — one of those slow streets designated for local traffic only.

But he didn’t get far.

At the corner of Creighton and Charles a truck “came out of nowhere” as Rad recalled in an interview, and ran into him. His bike was wrecked, and Rad was taken to hospital with a broken foot. (He says he has mostly recovered, though he still has pain in the mornings.)

The Slow Streets program was part of Halifax’s pandemic response. With less vehicle traffic, and with greater distancing requirements, the idea was to provide more space for people getting around without cars.

Looking back on the program in the Examiner, Zane Woodford wrote:

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 [municipal Slow Streets] 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,” [municipal transportation demand management coordinator Eliza] 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.”

The traffic barrels Jackson is referring to are the bright orange ones that you may have seen run over, pushed to the side, or tossed out of the way last year.

Very effective North End “Slow Street” signage. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Rad was issued a ticket for failure to stop at a stop sign. (He recalls stopping, but a witness said he did not come to a full stop, and Rad does not dispute it.) But since he says the truck that hit him was from out of town and was cutting through the neighbourhood to avoid traffic — something explicitly not allowed under the program — he went to court to fight the ticket.

Rad said “the judge and the prosecutor nearly laughed at me” when he brought up the Slow Streets argument in court. “They had never heard of it… I asked the driver if he knew about the program and he said no. I asked the officer the same question, ‘Do you know about the Slow Streets program?’ and he said no.”

For Rad, these responses indicate a failure to properly implement and communicate the program. And he says that puts people who expect to be safer on a supposedly slow street at risk. As a result, he feels the program is more dangerous than doing nothing.

“I very much endorsed this program when it came on in May 2020,” he said. “But when it came to execution, it just feels like they did it to say, ‘Look we did it,’ but that put me in danger. It put everyone else who thought they were safe in danger.”

The municipality recognizes that the infamous barrels are not sufficient for the Slow Streets program and plans changes for this summer. A municipal report called Mobility Response: Streets and Spaces says:

Slow Street Program: The 2021 Slow Street program will be implemented using tactical urbanism materials (curbs, planters, bollards, etc.) to reduce maintenance and monitoring needs and improve overall impact for people using active transportation. 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 and will explore potential routes within and outside of the Regional Centre.

As Woodford wrote in his piece:

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.

Rad was not familiar with the details of the city’s plans for 2021, but feels strongly that the program needs to be much more robust if it is to have any effect at all. He said, “If there is an education program, if the cops are educated, if there is enforcement – if those things are part of the program, this is a welcome change. As a cyclist, I would love to see this program expanded and resources allocated to it. But I don’t want to see half-measures anymore. Last year people talked about their concern that it would cause a false sense of security and make it dangerous, and here is an example of it. Either we do it properly or not at all. No half-measures.”

Dalhousie Health Promotion professor and active transportation advocate Sara Kirk (she’s on the board of the group Vélo Canada Bikes) agrees that “we need to make the changes more permanent and more robust … We’ve learned that sticking bollards on a street is not going to do it. It’s not enough. ‘Great idea, poorly executed, needs more work’ is the takeaway for me,” she said in an interview. “The planners had a very limited budget so they went for cheap and fast rather than more robust.”

Kirk said innovative active transportation programs in Halifax can wind up being “just a little bit shit because we don’t take that bold action.” But she disagreed that the Slow Streets program as it ran last year was worse than nothing. The problem, she said, was “’not the slow street … it’s the car-centric culture where even if you put these initiatives in place, it doesn’t affect the people we are trying to influence — i.e. people in cars.”

A new paper published in The Canadian Journal of Public Health looks at how three mid-sized Canadian cities — Halifax, Kelowna, and Victoria — allocated streets in response to the pandemic.

While the paper found Halifax’s approach compared favourably to the other cities (albeit with the caveat that it had less active transportation infrastructure to begin with), authors Jaimy Fischer and Meghan Winters note:

Street reallocations will require more resources. City budgets have been devastated. Some cities may simply have not had funds to undertake reallocations. In other cases, cities actioned quickly, leveraging temporary infrastructure (bollards, signage) which may already have been on hand. Such “lighter, quicker, cheaper” implementations may be sufficient when motor vehicle volumes are reduced/attenuated, but as vehicle volumes bounce back it will be vital that people continue to feel safe and comfortable using active transportation. An outstanding question is to what extent COVID-19 street reallocations will become permanent—and if so, when—given the costs associated with permanent treatment.

Rad says some of his activist friends disagree with his contention that a poorly executed program is worse than nothing. But, he said, “Let’s not put more people in danger here.”

More than eight months after being hit, Rad said he hasn’t been back on a bike, with the exception of a couple of trail rides. And when he walks or drives to work, he finds himself reacting to the sight of cars near bikes, worrying that they are too close. “I keep seeing drivers being too close to the bikes,” he said. ” I hope I can get over the phobia.”

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2. The Summer of Play II

Logan Trewin and Emmet Petersmann with their homemade go-kart in summer 2020. Photo contributed

Since I wrote a piece for the Examiner last year called “The summer of play” I feel somewhat obliged to point you to this new Bloomberg CityLab article called “Let’s Declare This the Summer of Play.”

In the piece, Alexandra Lange writes:

Children need their playgrounds back, certainly, but they also need access to all that open space, primarily occupied by cars, right outside their front doors. That’s where a more organic “play community” can flourish, one that teaches children lessons of self-determination and independence, and one that, with community and public investment, could require less investment of time and attention by overburdened parents while providing much-needed activities for youth. Play is also only possible in neighborhoods where residents already feel free from violence and surveillance — equity issues which need to be addressed first.

There is a window of opportunity here, as temperatures and vaccination rates rise, to keep the public gains communities have made in reclaiming the streets for walking, biking and dining, and extending them more explicitly to play.

Lange outlines what various American cities have done and are doing to shut down streets to traffic, but also extolls the importance of more spontaneous efforts to reclaim urban space for kids:

Meghana Joshi, an architect based in Irvine, California, told me in an email that, “Pre-pandemic, most of the children spent their day being shuttled from school to arts to sports to debate to academic tutoring, barely giving them unplanned time to spend in the neighborhood.” During the pandemic, that all changed. Dead-end streets ringed with garages through which cars used to breeze have become common play areas, with homemade “kids at play” signs. The homeowners association, which used to send letters discouraging chalk art, has given up.

“With the garage doors open and some of the parents housed in the garage for remote working, there is general supervision,” Joshi writes. “Activities are not planned, but toys are shared between children. Evening walks in the neighborhood these days look like chalk festivals, with kids drawing on the asphalt for entertainment. There are bicycles and Razor scooters left on the sidewalk by tired children.” Different courts have taken on different personalities, with kids sorting themselves by age.

I think my favourite part of the “Summer of play” piece I wrote is the last paragraph, featuring one of the boys at the top of this segment:

As for Emmet, one of the summer projects he’s had time for is building a go-kart with his friend Logan. “We keep adding modifications,” he said. “We added brakes a couple of weeks ago. We just ride it down the street. Really fun.”

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Noticed

Drawing by Jens Notroff.

One of my earliest ambitions was to be an archaeologist. This was before Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, so I assume my interest came from the fact that I’m half Greek, and when you visit Greece the past is present everywhere you look. There are the big, famous sites of course — the Parthenon, Olympia — but also the everyday presence of those who have come before. That island at the edge of town? That’s supposedly where Paris made off for Troy with Helen. Go to the beach, and you can see the remnants of an ancient mosaic at the shoreline. In the town where my mother and sister live, you can still watch plays in the Roman theatre, which was built in the 2nd century CE.

Ancient theatre in Gytheio, Greece. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

While I of course did not become an archaeologist, I do follow several of them on Twitter. (Is this the 21st-century equivalent of “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?”). And recently, I was quite taken with the work of one of them, Berlin-based Jens Notroff.

Notroff, who describes himself as having a hat but no whip, says on his website that he is “vehemently advocating for the resurrection of the respectable profession of the ‘expedition painter’ – and is gladly contributing his share: Pen on desk, drawing kit in field pack, and pencil in dust.”

In an illustrated essay on Medium called “‘A-Digging on a Tell’, or: A day in the field — An illustrated excavation diary,” Notroff chronicles a single day on a dig in Turkey. The day begins at 4:30 AM with the call to prayer and a simple breakfast, and then the trip to the dig site. Notroff writes:

As we arrive on this early Neolithic site, somewhere up in the mountains of southeastern Turkey, a pale moon is still hanging around a sky only slowly changing from black to blue. Groups of local workmen just arrived minutes before by tractor from a village down the hill. Still dressed in coats and cardigans against the morning coolth, they are waiting for day’s work to start while the bunch of students and scientists are collecting tools and instruments, equipment and journals. Finally, first light is sounding the bell for the workday to start as a still shy sun is hesitantly peeking above the eastern horizon. Workmen and archaeologists alike are heading to the excavation trenches, a caravan of shovels and buckets, of head-scarves and hats. Everyone knows their place and assignment; gangs finding together following a long-established system (and dare you trying to change this!): There’s two diggers, one who shovels, and two basket-carriers. Always. All of them accompanied by a student ready to label, note, and measure any find of interest they may unearth.

There is something about drawings that evoke a particular place and mood in ways that photography doesn’t always. (I am not, of course, arguing that photography cannot be tremendously evocative.) Many of Notroff’s drawings, like the one at the top of this item, are group portraits, capturing the sense of teamwork and shared accomplishment.

Drawing by Jens Notroff.

In the text accompanying the image above, Notroff writes:

A steady flow of find material is coming towards provisional lab and office facilities in the excavation’s ‘headquarters’ of construction containers and tents upon the next hill crest — eagerly awaited by those specialists keen to have a look onto the latest piece of obsidian or the peculiar animal bone.

The day’s digging is done by mid-day (it’s hot out), but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Finds have to be sorted and catalogued, reports written. It’s not swashbuckling stuff, but it’s absolutely critical. And then you do it all over again.

Drawing by Jens Notroff.

The essay is a quick read, and it is well worth a few minutes of your time to enjoy Notroff’s accounts, both written and visual.

At the end of the post, Notroff writes that it is clearly inspired by the work of Agatha Christie Mallowan — who you probably know better simply as Agatha Christie:

The “Archaeological Memoir,” published in 1946, gives an account of her days in the field together with her husband Max Mallowan (esteemed British archaeologist and excavator of such renowned sites like Tell Brak, Tell Arpachiyah, and others) and pointedly describes the daily routine of an archaeological excavation. It is a very entertaining, a witty and spirited little book; one I’d personally recommend not only to archaeologist-colleagues.

I had no idea.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — live on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site

Wednesday

Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am) — live on YouTube

Province

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 1pm) — agenda setting, via video conference

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — live video conference; COVID Recovery and Response RE: 2020 Financial Report of the Auditor General, with Kellianne Dean (Department of Finance and Treasury Board,) Scott Farmer (Department of Inclusive Economic Growth,) Laurel Broten (Nova Scotia Business Inc.,) Darlene MacDonald (Tourism Nova Scotia,) and Matt Hebb (Dalhousie University)


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: Maersk Palermo, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
06:00: HMCS Margaret Brooke, Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, arrives at Irving Shipyard from sea trials
10:30: MSC Annick, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
12:00: MSC Brianna, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
13:30: Maersk Palermo sails for sea
17:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from New York

Cape Breton
09:00: Madeleine, ferry, arrives at Sydney from Souris, PEI


Footnotes

I wrote today’s Morning File while listening to blues phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. He’s a remarkable singer and guitar player, and still only 22. (His mum was also country legend Charley Pride’s first cousin.) Big thumbs up to Callum, one of my kids, for turning me on to him.

Here’s Ingram performing an hour-long set in January (no audience) to celebrate his birthday.

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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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    1. I figured someone might make a comment like this, and was going to pre-emptively address it in the story. Maybe I should have.

      In some places a rolling stop is legal for cyclists, recognizing that you don’t have to come to a full stop the way you do in a car. Mind you, that’s not the case in Halifax. There’s a good video on rolling stops here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84eB0N-LG6M

      I asked Rad what he would say to people whose response would be you didn’t come to a full stop, it’s your fault, end of story. He said: “Did I make a mistake? Yes, based on the facts of the case, i made a mistake. I got a broken foot, broken bicycle, and paid my fine.” But he thought that didn’t negate the argument that a slow street program that has no consequences for drivers ignoring it, and one that even police are unaware of, is not helpful. “I feel like the lack of communication and poor execution of a well-intended program is so much more damaging to the spirit of active transportation than the good that it brings.”

  1. Re the Summer of Play, we adults need to remember to play* too! While listening to a podcast a few years ago, the guest expressed the amount of life he statistically had left, not in the number of years, but in the number of summers. That really struck me. In places like Nova Scotia with long winters, it’s even more meaningful. I’ve spent too many summers stuck in an office building. How many do I have left? Now during summer, I remember to carpe diem.

    *While following pandemic restrictions.

  2. My residential street is in a neighbourhood where all streets were reduced from 50k to 40k, as part of the city’s road safety initiatives. Signs were posted, but without even posting the NEW sign sometimes used to draw attention to a change. There’s been no enforcement. With no attention drawn to the reduction, and no enforcement, there’s been no change to traffic – the street continues to be a racetrack for drivers zooming into or out of downtown. However, the city can claim to be doing something, and will probably soon claim that reducing speed limits doesn’t improve road safety. It’s going to take more than a few discreet signs to improve road safety.

  3. Our street was a ‘slow street’. The street is frequented by fire trucks on a training exercise from King street or when attending the many accidents outside our house. I am the first responder.
    Or the fire truck is on its way to an incident at an apartment block further along the street. Our block is part of the EHS route to Dartmouth General, the route has few traffic lights and is the quickest. The plastic bollards were soon mangled – entirely predictable. I hope Kourash has recovered mentally. The trauma from an accident and an injury doesn’t go away, it just needs to be managed.

  4. Brett Ruskin took the Peggy’s Cove story from the Frank magazine article published 3 days ago