HALIFAX – Over the past two months, a special road project has been working its way through City Council — a road project that would see our active transportation network expanded by nearly one kilometre. Although this doesn’t seem like much, due to its proximity to schools, recreation centres, a bustling commercial district and residential neighbourhoods, this new AT corridor might be the most practical application of a bike lane that HRM has seen.
As stated in a previous article, encouraging active transportation by installing more tangible infrastructure has numerous health, social and economic benefits. Despite all these factors, the Spryfield & District Business Commission has stood against the removal of car lanes in favour of bike lanes, citing anecdotal fears about losses to business.
As Co-Chair of the Halifax Cycling Coalition, and after researching “road diets” in several other cities all over North America, I find it difficult to understand where the SDBC is coming up with the evidence to substantiate their fears. Many studies actually indicate that road diets work phenomenally well in increasing business.
The Valencia district of San Francisco faced such a street change in 1999. Although many businesses were against the idea of lane reductions in favour of bike lanes, a survey conducted five years after the road diet indicated that 66% of business owners thought the bike lanes had a positive effect on their bottom lines. Furthermore, 73% of merchants indicated that bike lanes made the streets more attractive, and 62% thought that the street change as a whole increased pedestrian safety in the area.
Helena, Montana is another road-diet success story. Although originally apprehensive about enacting such a change, City staffers found that upon reducing the cross section of an urban primary highway, improvements in traffic operations and safety were observed. Residents were also impressed with the street change and thought it made the commercial district more attractive. Bike lanes were later added to the road after it became apparent that lane reductions had a positive impact on the community.
Duluth, Minnesota is another city in which a road change like this has occurred. Despite much trepidation from citizens, it was found that congestion decreased, vehicle traffic slowed down to a safer level and pedestrians and motorists alike enjoyed increased safety as a result.
Saint George street in Toronto has also been one of the first road-dieters in Canada. With such great results in districts not unlike Herring Cove Road, it likely won’t be the last.
Spryfield business owners have a right to be afraid of what will happen to their road: their livelihood depends on the income generated from the area. However, with all the negative pressure they are putting on this issue, it’s hard to imagine they’re taking the time to consider the shinier side of the coin. By adding bike lanes to the area, more people will end up cycling in the neighbourhood, thus increasing the size of their discretionary budgets. Furthermore, with the reduction of travel lanes and the addition of curbed medians, the neighbourhood’s pedestrian appeal will increase significantly from the “concrete desert” motif that is presently evident along this stretch of road. We will also be encouraging youngsters attending Central Spryfield School to engage in active living — a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly rare among the youth of this province.
The Herring Cove issue goes to council for a vote on Tuesday. The HCC is encouraging all concerned citizens to attend regional council at 6PM as they vote over the issue. This could be be the biggest breakthrough for active living and active transportation in HRM to date… or a depressing loss for the community.