One of the most important things a city can accomplish beyond building cultural hubs, great sports fields or libraries is ensuring that citizens can get from point “A” to “B”. Municipal transportation systems should be such that they are multimodal and form an integrated efficient network. Having well designed road, transit and active transportation networks are markers of a city that understands people like options for transportation. In Halifax, while I feel that we are slowly getting on board – I feel that we have a lot of work to do.
From my lens, I feel that overall we continue to design for transportation that will mainly occur in a car. Bringing it down to the human level, our pedestrian network is on life support. Pedestrian-car collisions continue to be an issue of concern across the municipality. Business parks are built that are only designed to be safely accessed by car and some communities lack complete sidewalk infrastructure to help promote walking as a means of transportation.
Outside of peninsular Halifax, walking is not a popular choice presently as a means of transportation. Based on the 2011 census the average mode share for walking represented only 8.5% of the population, with the goal the AT Plan to double active transportation modes such as walking by 2026. Creating strong community connections via a complete, integrated walk-able network is important. Walking is good for our health; it was our species first means of locomotion. Thirty minutes of walking per day can help provide health benefits that reduce chronic illness occurrences, improve mood, sleep and connect us with our other residents.
We have a plan but is it enough?
The five year plan for 2014-2019 has been approved by regional council, but is it enough? Reviewing the report, it is a good report and I believe that there are logical, attainable goals included. However, an active transportation (AT) friendly city is such all year round not simply in summer months. This winter we have seen challenges with the maintaining of current AT routes. The reality is that our city is slow to change and there are many parts of the city that simply favour the car. The road network infrastructure is comparatively complete, safe and effective when compared to cycle or pedestrian routes. Psychologically, we are programmed to take the lane of least resistance which for many of us would be using a car to get around. Even with our expanded greenways, growing sidewalk network and patchy bike lanes there are broken links.
The disconnect is largely our cultural and how many of us were taught to get around. Growing up, yes I walked to elementary because we lived across the street from the school. However, junior and high school I either took public transit or for senior high school I drove a car. Walking happened in the small community I lived in – it was accepted as a means to explore my neighbourhood of Wallis Heights but not my larger community of Dartmouth.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink..
Culture and car centric urban design are the two forces continually accosting the magic of active transportation. Across much of the 20th century, cities were allowed to spread and zoning generally was one to two major types per area. Mixed used development was not as widely used as we are starting to see now in Halifax. This lack of mixed used development and ever expanding city map fostered and even encouraged the dependence on the car, and the shift away from modes of active transportation. Adding in the Western ideal of bigger, better faster and we were lead to believe walking or cycling was inferior to the car.
Halifax, we need a perfect storm of change that leverages the regional plan, the AT Plan, municipal planning strategies and land use by-laws. Our municipal staff have good plans at our disposal that set out clear, modern ideals for our city. However, it’s important that all these planning documents work in concert to produce the synergies that citizens wish to see. As we soon move into spring, I encourage everyone to once a week walk or cycle to your destination – an active transportation revolution all across our great city!