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After yet another pedestrian fatality it’s time for the city to act

Lady Hammond Road. Photo Facebook.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Yesterday’s tragic fatality on Lady Hammond Road is yet another reminder that our roads lack basic safety for those who need it the most.

We know nothing about the circumstances of yesterday’s incident other than limited information released by the police and some photos showing the accident scene. It appears that a 63 year-old lady somehow ended up under a truck transporting a shipping container in the approximate location of 4 Paws Veterinary Hospital and Jollytails. It would be wrong for me to speculate further here about who was to blame, if anyone, or what happened.

What I can do here is look at the practicalities of this road from the perspective of a pedestrian. There is a bus stop right outside 4 Paws. If I was arriving or departing by bus and I needed to get to the other side of the road to a workplace or one of the many services along this street, how would I do that?

Would I risk crossing the road outside of a marked crosswalk? Bearing in mind the whole stretch of this road is a wide four lane highway style road? I probably would. The nearest marked crosswalk at Memorial Drive is 283 metres away, making crossing the road a round trip of 566 metres. Although people who don’t walk much may say that’s necessary, practically no-one is likely to make that detour, nor should they be expected to on an urban road which is lined with public services on both sides of the road. 

Personally I would take one of the many unmarked crosswalks nearer to the bus stop and use what I am blessed with to get across this treacherous road – fast running legs and acumen acquired from a lifetime of not driving. Even then this would be a risky crossing. Often I witness people trying to cross dangerous roads like this who are much less advantaged than myself – children, the elderly, people with mental and physical disabilities and animals. These people are less typically on twitter or instagram complaining about their predicament and so often tend to be forgotten.

Just last month however a member of HRM Safe Streets for Everyone, Samantha White, did raise the issue of how to get across the road in what looks to be the same location as the incident yesterday. As usual the advice from group members was to get in touch with 311 and the councillor for the district, Lindell Smith. And the usual frustrations were expressed by group members including Marilyn Pincock, who said:

 Why is it we need to PUSH to have a crosswalk installed anywhere? I just don’t get it. It seems like we’re asking for the moon. I asked for one a month ago between Young/Robie and Almon/Robie and it’s gone nowhere. Why would a simple request like that take so long? Who needs to decide this? There are more than 400 people new to the area in the two towers on Monaghan Square… shouldn’t be an unreasonable request to accommodate the pedestrians who want to cross somewhere in between these two intersections of four-lane semi-highway.

Our predicament throughout HRM is how to get across multiple lane highway style roads like Lady Hammond which cut through our communities like sores. Often crosswalks are hundreds of metres apart. Traffic is light on many of them, enabling drivers to move way in excess of the speed limit even at peak hours when we are trying to get to the bus and our kids are walking to school. Traffic lanes on these roads are often much wider than the ten feet width recommended for safe urban roads. It can take 20 seconds or longer to cross these deadly routes, during which a lot can happen on the multiple lanes full of traffic moving at speed.

The answer isn’t measures like cutting rose bushes down, and the onus should not be on us to dodge our way through traffic on unmarked crosswalks and risk our life. The answer is to convert these roads into routes which can be used by all, which promote transport diversity, and prioritize vulnerable road user safety. This need not take millions of $ per stretch of road. Even decades ago in the United Kingdom decisions were made to reallocate space on multiple lane roads for buses and cyclists only and the job was completed just days later using paint alone.

In Canada, cities like Ottawa have adopted comprehensive traffic calming policies which cover every kind of urban road and include descriptions on what measures can be used to adapt them for safe and sustainable use. Artery roads like Lady Hammond and Dunbrack, where concerns were expressed last week regarding speeding traffic, could benefit from road diets. This involves physical measures which reduce the road and traffic lane width, slowing traffic down to appropriate speeds for an urban area, and/or re-allocating more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Roads which look and feel like Highways don’t belong in urban areas and will only result in more fatalities involving all road users and no progress with achieving transport diversity and creating enjoyable, liveable communities. We need to figure out a cost effective means of adapting them for use by all. That will require us to look again at our priorities, involve specialists, and copy what other cities have done including Ottawa. 

The time to point the finger of blame at the Province, traffic staff and road users is over. It’s time for HRM to get on with the job of making our roads fit for purpose for all to use and enjoy by delivering a comprehensive and funded road safety strategy. Above all, that process must prioritize the needs of those who are most vulnerable.

If you walk, cycle or use a wheelchair and are affected by road safety issues, please join HRM Safe Streets for Everyone. If your local crosswalk needs a crosswalk flag, please contact the Crosswalk Safety Society. Please remember to report issues affecting your safety to our municipal authorities using the 311 service.

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