Environment featured

Martyn Williams: Stop fining responsible pedestrians

Commons pathway. Photo John van Gurp

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – If you drive every day to the shops, to work and anywhere else you need to go, it may not be obvious to you that the paved paths through places like Halifax Commons and Victoria Park are part of a well used pedestrian transportation network. 

Going around these parks is a significant detour. It takes less than a minute to cut across Victoria Park using the paved path, and about four minutes for a physically able person to take the detour via Spring Garden Road between College Street and Brenton Place – about the same time that it takes to drive from Cogswell Street to College Street.

These paths are convenient for the physically able, and essential for the many elderly and disabled people who rely on walking for their mobility to get to shops and essential services. 

Those using them are, with rare exceptions, responsible law-abiding people who are maintaining social distance from others. They are not stopping to gather, play or do anything that is harmful to others.

However, Halifax Police have been issuing fines of $700 to people walking through these parks, causing considerable distress and confusion. Local resident Cody Anderson wrote to the Chronicle Herald to express his concern:

“The other day, I saw a poor young woman get a $700 ticket for walking through Victoria Park in Halifax. There were others walking through as well, but she was the unlucky one who was singled out and fined. She was in tears and after the officer left, my wife walked over to her to say how sorry she felt for her.”

On the same day that HRM staff confirmed flags had been placed either side of paths over the Commons to let users know that they could be used for essential travel, Tim Cleveland, a chef who uses the paths to get to and from work, was fined nearly $700 for using them.  

It is absolutely the right thing to make sure our paths through parks can still be used for essential transport. The practice of fining people using them responsibly and safely for this purpose is completely unacceptable. 

A crisis certainly requires new laws, new enforcement practices and extreme care by all of us to ensure we comply with social distancing and travel advice. And in the process of adopting and enforcing new laws hastily, mistakes are made. Elsewhere, apologies for heavy-handed enforcement have been issued promptly together with clear information to the public on revisions made to enforcement practices.

This needs to happen here, now – a public apology must be issued from the person(s) ultimately responsible for the unwarranted enforcement policy, the fines should be withdrawn, and we must refocus on enforcing offences and addressing issues which could genuinely endanger others.

Pedestrians are easy targets, but they are not putting others at risk. Their journeys are extremely challenging with social distancing requirements impossible to meet on our narrow sidewalks, also considerable danger from our dangerous-by-design crosswalks.

Pedestrians should not ever be the optic focus of our efforts to fight COVID-19. Neither do they deserve the prospect of high fines to add to their very real fear of serious injury or death. They need clear information, advice and support to make their journeys safely and without fear of unjustified harassment from our authorities.

In the absence of clear and consistent information and enforcement practices from our authorities, I suggest pedestrians follow current advice on the Province’s website which simply states; “Provincial and municipal parks and beaches are closed”.

No exceptions are listed, including use of the paths and rights of way through any parks for transportation purposes. A map showing parks in HRM can be viewed here.

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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