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Winter bike lane clearing not a priority for Halifax

Cycling advocates want Halifax to make bike lanes safer in the winter

4 min read
caption Jillian Banfield cycling near the Dalhousie campus.
Kristina Pappas

Halifax cycling advocates are in conflict with a Halifax councillor over priorities for bike lane clearing after a snowfall.

Currently, the city doesn’t list where clearing bike lanes falls on their list of priorities. Coun. Matt Whitman said as far as he’s concerned, clearing them simply isn’t a priority.

In an interview, he insisted the city needs to focus first on keeping bus lanes, bus stops, sidewalks and roads clear.

“There’s 99 other priorities ahead of winter bike lanes,” Whitman said.

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Whitman noted that one per cent of the population commutes by bicycle, adding that it’s important the city focuses on clearing roads for “the other 99 per cent of us to use.”

Cyclist Jillian Banfield is dubbed Halifax’s bicycle mayor, a title given to her by BYCS, an Amsterdam-based social enterprise and global initiative to get more people cycling. The bicycle mayor’s job is to work with their city and community to make cycling a popular method of transportation.

Banfield questions the validity of using percentages as a way to discredit clearing bike lanes.

“Frankly, I don’t put a lot of emphasis on numbers because disabled people are a minority so are we going to discriminate against them because there’s not enough of them to bother clearing bike lanes or sidewalks or whatever infrastructure they need?” she said.

“The one per cent is a foolish number to discuss, I think.”

caption Cycling is Jillian Banfield’s main way to get around.

Banfield depends on her bicycle to get around because mobility issues mean that she finds it easier to ride than walk.

“For me cycling isn’t an option. It’s mandatory. It’s a mobility aid for me, so if I’m not able to cycle, I really am stuck in my house,” she said.

When asked about the people who use bicycles for mobility reasons, Whitman said he thought it was great, but didn’t change his position on the matter.

Banfield believes the city needs to better prioritize clearing bike lanes in the winter.

She pointed out that taking proper safety measures would likely lead to more people cycling in the winter.

“It’s a very approachable activity. People would think nothing of going to the Oval with their skates right now. That would be a wonderful thing to do. So why don’t we support people to cycle in these kinds of conditions too?” said Banfield.

Safe roads for every one

John Kyle, a Haligonian and daily cyclist, said failing to keep bicycle lanes clear from snow forces cyclists to ride into traffic.

“When they’re not cleared, it just makes it more dangerous because you’re riding in the rest of the lanes with the cars and it’s much more crowded that way,” said Kyle.

In an email, Halifax Regional Municipality spokesperson Brynn Budden said protected bike lanes have no council-approved standards and are addressed at the same time as sidewalks following a storm.

Budden added the municipality is having a consultant review winter operations service standards. This will include those for bike lanes, which will help shape recommendations for council’s consideration moving forward.

Banfield wants the city to establish clear priorities for bike lanes that can be easily found on the municipality’s website. Currently, the city lists the priorities for roads and sidewalks, but doesn’t mention bike lanes.

“I think we need to flip our snow clearing priorities on their head to reflect the integrated mobility plan priorities. That plan emphasizes people walking, cycling, using buses, carpooling, all above single occupancy vehicles, so I think all of our policy decisions and our infrastructure decisions need to reflect that,” she said.

“Why aren’t we clearing sidewalks and bike lanes before we’re clearing side streets?”

Until there is a set standard for bike lane clearing priorities, it’s difficult for cyclists to know when they can expect to get back on the roads after a storm.

Kyle thinks people have to think about what kind of city they want.

“Do you want to build a city for the past or do you want to build a city for the future?” he said.

“There’s a lot of untapped demand for bicycle lanes a lot of people who would bike if you provided safe ways for people to get around town.”

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About the author

Kristina Pappas

Kristina Pappas is a journalism student. She's from western Canada and is smitten with the east coast's charm. You can find her at a beach, exploring...

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  1. M

    Matt R Parsons

    As someone who's ridden a bike his entire life it's fairly easy to make an argument for why you shouldn't be on your bike when the ground is covered in ice and snow. Also I must ask... "“Why aren’t we clearing sidewalks and bike lanes before we’re clearing side streets?” seriously? Emergency services being able to get to emergencies is much more important than you being able to ride your bike around in winter. Get a car and put the bicycle away until the snow melts.
  2. J


    What problem with his article is the rider in the picture. She or he does not have a safety vest on and does not have any lights of any kind on their bicycle. In here the bicyclist are asking for safety.
  3. N

    Norm Seguin

    I wouldn't complain if I was Ms. Banfield. As it is, Halifax views the 'majority', last. Right behind public transit, cyclists and pedestrians. Bayers Rd. is about to get a major reconstruction worth untold millions of dollars, and it will only benefit the above. There will be nothing to improve current, or future traffic congestion. Enjoy your bike lane!
  4. K


    Seeing that only one percent of the folks want to bicycle, why don't we try golf carts! Fuel efficient, no threat to speed limits, very efficient parking opportunities and priced low enough that everyone could own one. Seems to work in lots of US towns. I can't see where weather would be an issue either. If it's bad enough, you shouldn't be on the road anyway.....especially on a bicycle!
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