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The Ecology Action Centre is urging voters in the Halifax Regional Municipality to consider transportation issues when they cast ballots in tomorrow’s election.
Julian West, a Making Tracks coordinator at the centre, says that the HRM transportation system is too focused on moving people around in cars, which has caused communities to be spread out and disconnected.
“There can be a reduction in quality of life and your overall connectedness to your community,” he says. He uses examples such as sitting in traffic or living in communities that are too far away from services.
The transportation sector produces 26 per cent of Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gases, and half of this is from personal car use, says West.
The centre would like to see a better public transit system, including commuter rail, connected cycling networks and safer walking options.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the centre has highlighted environmental issues they would like candidates, via public urging, to focus on.
This week, the final week leading up to the election, it chose transportation.
“Halifax is ready for a commuter rail,” says Rod McPhail, project manager of the Integrated Mobility Plan, the city’s 15-year plan that aims to bring forward plans, policies and proposals that will allow people to get around the city without using cars.
McPhail says 80 per cent of people in HRM make their daily trips by car. The plan aims to reduce this to 70 per cent by 2031. While this may not seem like a large difference, he says, it is actually a major change because of the large number of people involved.
While both West and McPhail think Halifax needs commuter rail, this would be difficult and costly to establish. Mayor Mike Savage has talked about wanting to implement a commuter rail line in recent mayoral debates, but there are no public plans started for the system.
McPhail says it would cost $25 million to $30 million to get a rail line up and running.
If it were put in, it would use existing tracks running from the VIA Rail station on Hollis Street.
McPhail says, as an example, people could get from Bedford to a stop near Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities in 32 minutes, including stops, regardless of the weather. The bus takes a minimum of 45 minutes, which increases with traffic and bad weather.
The Halifax Cycling Coalition recently released a pledge it would like all candidates to sign, to make Halifax more bicycle-friendly.
Kelsey Lane, executive director of the coalition, says about 45 candidates signed the pledge.
“The coalition would like to see a network where you can get from point A to point B on a bicycle, no matter what your age, no matter what your ability,” says Lane.
She says that 60 per cent of people interested in riding bicycles as their daily transportation say they don’t because they don’t feel safe.
Lane says the coalition would also like to see a cycling ramp put in on the Macdonald Bridge as part of the resurfacing already being done, so that it is accessible for all ages and builds. The old ramp had a steep grade, making it inaccessible to many cyclists.
West says when it comes to increasing taxes for additional services, people start to shy away from supporting these changes.
“But I think it’s important to weigh all of the benefits and trade-offs of changing the system, and at the very minimum, changing it as much as we can,” he says.