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Making space for pedestrians – An email exchange between Halifax’s Brad Anguish and Martyn Williams

On April 29 Martyn Williams sent an open letter to Jacques Dubé (Halifax CAO) and Brad Anguish (Director, Public Transportation and Works), expressing concern that genuine issues relating to social distancing rules and lack of space for pedestrians were not taken seriously by Halifax City Hall.

What follows is a further exchange between Brad Anguish and Martyn Williams.

Response by email from Brad Anguish, Head of Transportation and Works, received 4 May

Good evening Mr. Williams,

I hope all is well for you and loved ones.

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for your comprehensive correspondence. It is unfortunate that you appear to have been provided an old email reference from April 6th which was during the height of the “stay the blazes home” and enforcement campaigns.  I can assure you that staff’s advice was evidence-based and was fully aligned with Provincial directives at that time.  We have long since moved on from that initial advice. 

HRM staff continues to align all actions with provincial directives as they continue to evolve. We have struck a staff team that is actively evaluating the need for transportation network adaptations both now and throughout the recovery phase.  It is very important to understand that this work is being conducted in a highly restrictive resource environment as staff explores how to reduce expenditures in excess of 150 million dollars.  Staff must evaluate whether to re-assign critical resources to implement temporary network adaptations or to continue to implement Council’s multi million dollar permanent capital program to support the Integrated Mobility Plan (which also supports HRMs economic recovery).  To date staff has implemented temporary measures to relocate some loading zones and to reduce signal cycle times in some key transportation corridors to reduce pedestrian queuing.  Field staff and police continue to monitor activity in the right-of-way to assist with citizen safety and to determine where adaptations may be required in future. 

Staff also continue to stay in close contact with our peers across the country to understand which solutions are working and which are not.  We intend to be prepared to deploy effective temporary adaptations to the network when/if required in consultation with public health officials.

Again, thanks for your correspondence.

Take care,


Martyn Williams response by email, 5 May

Dear Brad,

Thank you very much for your response. I very much appreciate the effort made by you to reply and the conciliatory tone, also the information on action taken to reduce pedestrian queuing and to reallocate space used for loading.  There is very limited public information available on the work in progress to deal with the spatial issues identified in my first email, therefore I would appreciate it if you could respond to some further questions relating to this part of your response:

“Staff must evaluate whether to re-assign critical resources to implement temporary network adaptations or to continue to implement Council’s multi million dollar permanent capital program to support the Integrated Mobility Plan

Field staff and police continue to monitor activity in the right-of-way to assist with citizen safety and to determine where adaptations may be required in future.” 

Halifax Regional Police continue to issue reminders of the need to comply with the two metre distancing law and have fined pedestrians in spaces that do not permit two metre distances to be maintained from others. For context, this map shows how our sidewalks do not allow pedestrians to comply with this law

My request is for the traffic authority to urgently establish pedestrian safety zones on key streets (using your statutory powers) where pedestrians are finding it impossible to meet social distancing laws such as Quinpool, Agricola and Spring Garden Road. This can be performed using traffic cones to close off traffic lanes or on-street parking spaces, as seen on this busy and wide shopping street in Toronto.

This kind of measure does not have the financial resource implications that you identify as a constraint on your department and work. Funding could be potentially met from the tactical urbanism funding dedicated for trial and temporary adaptations aimed at vulnerable road user safety.

Where I have seen traffic/road cones deployed to shut off traffic lanes by construction workers on wide artery roads with low traffic levels such as Lacewood Drive, I can see it results in the added benefit of lower, safer traffic speeds that are much more suitable (and widely recommended) for an urban mixed-use community. 

As I mentioned, this is a current and very serious issue for the police and for vulnerable road users on Spring Garden Road and Quinpool. The speeds clocked by traffic police of 87kph and 103kph respectively on these roads are (as I am sure you will appreciate) caused in no small part by wide Highway-style urban roads and lower traffic levels, also on parts of Spring Garden Road, very wide traffic lanes.

As an engineer, you will also understand the temporary measures that can be put in place to help slow traffic by reducing traffic lane width and/or the number of traffic lanes.

Lack of space to effect social distancing laws on our sidewalks is a serious and current problem for pedestrians which needs understanding and urgent addressing by our traffic authority. It may not be addressed by the grid proposed by Shawn Cleary. I understand this is a longer term initiative to expedite the permanent grid, which of course avoids main streets like Quinpool and Spring Garden Road.

When there were issues last year on Quinpool caused by a combination of excess numbers of people using cars to commute to work combined with repairs to a railway bridge, traffic engineers were deployed at an early stage to count vehicles and implement temporary measures to aid the smooth and efficient flow of traffic. Perhaps something similar has already been completed, or is in progress in relation to the flow of pedestrians?

So my specific questions are:

  1. Please could you confirm what you mean by “right of way” – does this refer to both crosswalks and sidewalks? 
  2. What assessment(s) have taken place by traffic staff at key roads that are most used by pedestrians for essential journeys, such as Quinpool? 
  3. Are appropriate measures being considered for rapid implementation on these streets to increase space for pedestrians, such as the simple measure shown in this photograph
  4. If these measures are not considered appropriate now, please could you explain why?
  5. Are adequate funds for these measures available from the tactical urbanism budget? If not, please explain why?

With best wishes

Martyn Williams

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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  1. As a manual wheelchair user with limited upper body strength, I cannot propel myself outdoors due to the condition of sidewalks (cracks, bumps, curb cuts with bumps) and certainly not in winter conditions. I require door to door service from Access-A-Bus (or an accessible taxi if there were any left). If the place I need to get to is on a street that is closed to traffic to allow for physical distancing of pedestrians, I would not be able to go there. I have already discussed this with AAB and they confirmed that no driver is going to or is required to push me along a street to my destination if the bus if forced to park a distance away. Nor is a driver going to park his bus and come and get me from a distance either. Since I have no one to push me, I don’t traverse public sidewalks but if I did, there would be barely enough room for a person to pass me, never mind stay six feet from me. I feel very unwelcome in this world and am made to feel a burden at every turn, and all I’m doing is sitting on a chair with wheels.

  2. Thank you for your comment and I am extremely sorry to hear about this very serious mobility issue. I hope this is being addressed and the Access-A-Bus is meeting your transportation needs. Regarding closing a street to cars, this is of course something that does not ever restrict access by those who require door to door transport due to a disability – “pedestrianized” streets ALWAYS maintain access for vehicles for this purpose, also very often the delivery of goods, also of course emergency vehicles, etc. It is a bit of a myth that only pedestrians are permitted on the street, and that essential needs are not met. So I am sure the motion passed yesterday by Council to (partially) close some streets will not restrict essential access for the disabled. I hope for the street you are on your spatial needs will be considered – please alert your Councillor if he/she isn’t already aware.

    1. Then why did Metro Transit not reassure me that Access-A-Bus vehicles are allowed to drive along streets that are open to pedestrians only? And what about if I was in a taxi? Are taxis allowed if their passenger has a mobility issue? I appreciate your optimism but I would very much doubt that any vehicle that isn’t an emergency vehicle (ambulance, fire) would be allowed to drive down a street that has been closed to vehicles.

      1. No plans have been made yet to close streets – only discussions. So no-one knows anything about the impact of any (potential) street closures, however I would think any such closures must retain essential access for those with disabilities. You might want to contact your Councillor or 311 once plans have been announced for clarification. Right now, no-one will know anything.

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